counter to warming US-Vietnam ties By Adam Boutzan
In late May, an
analysis of supposed United States intentions
toward Vietnam was posted on a popular Vietnamese
blog site. The document cited what was purported
to be a Vietnamese military intelligence analyst's
report on remarks made by US Embassy Deputy Chief
of Mission (DCM) Claire Pierangelo and three
younger American officials named only as Gary,
Greg and Chuck.
The blog site, Dan Lam
Bao (People Make the News), says the report is
one of many leaked to it by an anonymous source.
Some foreign experts who have reviewed the
document in question believe that it's a
fabrication. Perhaps so, but probably not; a fake
would have likely been more expertly done.
The Vietnamese intelligence report's
author cobbles together comments attributed by
"sources" to the aforesaid Americans that, he
says, provide insight into a supposed US strategy
of undermining Vietnamís communist regime. If so,
the analysis is
out of step with
mainstream views of a budding bilateral
Vietnam's rapprochement with
the US began in the early 1990s and has developed
particular strength in recent years. From the
beginning, however, Hanoi's decision to repair
relations with its former foe was controversial
within the Communist Party elite.
"liberals" argued that the collapse of the Soviet
Union left Vietnam with no recourse but to seek to
develop its prostrate economy on Western models.
"Conservatives" stressed that if the nation
shifted to a free-market orientation, as
implemented by the doi moi policy, it would
be impossible to prevent political and social
In the 20 years that
followed, Vietnam's economy boomed and relations
with the West - including the US - have extended
to include vigorous educational exchanges,
military cooperation driven by shared wariness of
an increasingly assertive China, and a virtually
unhindered flood of Western, Japanese and Korean
pop culture. It now seems that the predictions of
both party factions were correct.
liberals now celebrate what some refer to as a
"strategic relationship" with the US, party
conservatives lament a progressive weakening of
public morality and the party's authority. From
the perspective of party liberals, the comments
attributed to the Americans in the leaked document
are hardly outrageous. From the perspective of
conservatives, however, their tone, alternately
celebratory and disparaging, is likely viewed as
DCM Pierangelo is quoted as
saying the biggest problem with the Vietnamese
economy is the leadership's short-term focus and
its incestuous relationship with inefficient state
enterprises. "Economic restructuring ... is an
empty phrase. The government knows its problems,
but private and parochial considerations blur
their vision and slow the pace of change."
"Corruption has become a serious disease,"
the American DCM allegedly adds, pointedly
implicating Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and
unnamed ministers, "to the point that the people
attribute all bad things to 'Communism'." She is
said to conclude that the regime's failures put it
on a collision path with the aspirations of an
Americanized younger generation.
economic assessment is consistent with the
opinions of experts from international development
banks and has long been standard critical fare for
op-eds in Western newspapers. It's what Pierangelo
- trained as an economic specialist - might say if
giving a private briefing to a group of visiting
In the leaked
report, however, she also sounds strangely smug:
"The US was worried about the solidity of the
China-Vietnam relationship, but [because of the
penetration of American culture] now Vietnam has
escaped the influence of Chinese culture."
"Vietnam's problems are of its own making.
... Before, we thought we'd have to spend a lot of
money to accomplish our objectives, but that's no
longer necessary ... We'll press Vietnam's
government on human rights issues in order to
achieve our [other] strategic objectives."
Lastly, Pierangelo allegedly sums up:
"With all that's going on in Vietnam right now,
the face of the country will change greatly in the
next twenty years ... It's very possible that the
Communist regime will not endure."
Naive assessments Interspersed
with the diplomatic bomblets attributed to
Pierangelo, Gary (identified as a State Department
political officer), Greg (said to be a US Army
major) and Chuck (a Marine captain) provide
comparative comic relief. These three are
apparently recent graduates of the Washington
DC-based Johns Hopkins School of Advanced
International Studies (SAIS), which is identified
by the analyst as an "incubator for CIA agents".
The three men seem to have been sent to
Hanoi on brief "familiarization" assignments.
Attributed to them is the sort of commentary one
might expect from newbies: (1) people they've met
in cafes and beer halls are fed up with petty
corruption and criticize the government for not
standing up to Beijing on South China Sea
territorial claims; (2) Vietnamese really hate
China, and not just because it plays dirty on the
territorial issue; and (3) the Vietnamese are fast
becoming Americanized and are real friendly to
Greg, the supposed State
Department official, disclosed, "that if American
policy makers understood the situation in Vietnam
better, as we do, then surely Americans would
regard Vietnam very differently. Americans don't
know much about Vietnam because they haven't had
opportunities to come here and meet the people.
Our job [ie, his, Gary's and Chuck's] is to help
Americans understand Vietnam better. Vietnam now
is very close to us."
To Colonel Nguyen
Tan Tien, under whose signature the supposed
report was forwarded to the head of military
intelligence, the implications of these remarks
are clearly sinister: the Americans believe that
their "peaceful evolution" policy is succeeding so
well that all they have to do is wait for the
regime to collapse.
significant," he says, "is that [they think] the
weaknesses and shortcomings of our economy and
society, as well as the emergence of pro-American,
anti-Chinese thinking, is causing the people to
lose confidence in the Party and the regime."
The reports says: "That establishes a
foundation for Vietnam's 'self-transformation',
and all it will take to collapse the regime is a
nudge by the Americans at the appropriate time. In
the short run, the US (particularly the embassy in
Hanoi) is finding ways to set up a social network
in Vietnam, enticing and converting the younger
generation, vigorously propagandizing, causing
contention between China and Vietnam ... aiming at
transforming [and/or] overthrowing Vietnam's
regime within the next 20 years."
novice analyst were making these deductions,
diplomatic observers would conclude that he was
out of his depth. Colonel Tien, however, is
presumably a veteran. The self-serving and
overwrought conclusions he extracts from the
remarks attributed to DCM Pierangelo and the three
other Americans seem calculated to reinforce the
suspicions of conservatives among the ruling
elite, to wit, that the perfidious Americans are
bent on poisoning Vietnam's relations with China
and replicating an Eastern European-type "peaceful
evolution" in Vietnam.
Of course, the
report may not be genuine after all: there are
some who might have both motive and capability to
manufacture and disseminate such disinformation.
That could include members of the Viet Tan party,
an underground/exile group of dissidents which the
Hanoi regime insists are criminal terrorists.
Since it published the report described
above, the Dan Lam Bao blog has, up to June
3, published three other texts that it claims to
have received from the same anonymous source. Two
are reports of Vietnamese diplomatic contacts with
Chinese counterparts in Beijing, and the third is
a memorandum summarizing preparations by the
American Chamber of Commerce for a meeting in
February with visiting Assistant Secretary of
State Kurt Campbell.
The ordinariness of
the three other reports suggests that the leaked
documents are genuine, not disinformation.
Evidently Dan Lam Bao plans to publish
about one document per day. A researcher who
regularly monitors Vietnam's blogosphere says that
the disclosures haven't attracted particular
attention in the online community of political
Put another way, it seems that
the indiscretions attributed to DCM Pierangelo and
the other Americans are of special interest only
to those who suspect that America's real intention
in Vietnam is to bring down its government.
Adam Boutzan, a pseudonym, is an
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